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Business Technology: Will A Rising Tide In 2003 Lift All IT Boats?

What should we expect from this new year of 2003? Alan Greenspan says about half of U.S. businesses still haven't invested in what he calls the latest productivity-enhancing technologies (I'm not sure precisely what he places in that group, but I'd bet it's CRM, advanced Web sites, sophisticated supply-and demand-chain software, and real-time products and services), so perhaps this might be the year when that pent-up demand is released. Or will most companies reckon that since they don't appear to be terribly worse off than they were a year or two ago, then why not figure on another year of subsistence-level investments in business innovation powered by technology?

What about hiring--does your department have openings? If so, can they be filled, or have the start dates been pushed to the second or third quarter? Or have the openings vaporized like the Miami Dolphins' playoff plans? Is now the time to invest or to continue hunkering down so low that neither trouble nor opportunity will know how to find you?

I kicked around some of these ideas in my last column, which focused on the need for all of us to keep hope alive and recommit ourselves to innovation and fresh thinking ("Resolution For 2003: Don't Lose Hope," Dec. 23-30, p. 46; infor .htm). I was surprised at the volume of letters from readers sparked by that column, and I'd like to share some of the hundreds of responses you were gracious enough to send.

From a Chicago reader with 20 years' IT experience and an MBA from the University of Chicago who's just spent 18 months working as a substitute teacher and doing odd jobs: "I will be starting a full-time job for a prestigious employer on Monday, where I'll get health benefits for my retired husband. The downside is that the job's several steps below my early-2001 experience level and salary level. I'm luckier right now than two of my friends, but it does sometimes seem as if the light at the end of the tunnel is that proverbial train coming in the other direction."

From a reader whose letter ended, "Lead on, Captain Nemo": "Information technology is just emerging from the cave, tugged by Neanderthal Man. It is the key to navigating to the other side of the so-called Black Hole."

From "one not very hopeful thinker": "Perhaps, when we're finally told all the truth, by all the sources, we can begin to use our freedoms to strive, build, love, and even fail. Until then, the rising talent pool will drown more and more of us."

From a reader with a multigenerational perspective: "You think it's tough for IT professionals--how about the young people coming into the workforce? I have two sons trying to scrape by on any job they can find, and it's not fun to watch. All I can do is hope, pray, and encourage them to keep trying."

From a reader with a finger to point: "If our chicken-hearted CEOs weren't so quick to lay off workers at the first sign of trouble, just to protect their disgraceful multimillion-dollar salaries, a lot of our present troubles wouldn't have materialized."

From a reader who says the column was a "feel-good piece": "Our way of approaching IT work (especially with respect to consulting work or software-development projects) needs to change and the IT organization must consider itself at the same level as other organizations within corporate America. That is, it must abide by demands of demonstrable ROI, measurable progress, and basic HR management. I know of no other industry that allows (let alone rewards) its professionals for risking assets with no guaranteed return."

Maybe we should just follow the counsel of a guy I heard driveling at a recent holiday party: "People worry too much about the future. The future takes care of itself--always has, always will." But I sure hope we don't.

Bob Evans
Editor In Chief

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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